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Africa: "War on Drugs" Blowback Effects
Jun 14, 2011 (110614)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures
directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal
drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or
consumption. [at the same time] the implementation of the war on
drugs has generated widespread negative consequences for
societies in producer, transit and consumer countries,
[including] the growth of a 'huge criminal black market',
financed by the risk-escalated profits of supplying
international demand for illicit drugs." - Global Commission on
The Global Commission on Drug Policy
(http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org) released its report on
June 2, headlining its press release with a mention of a few of
the the prominent world leaders composing the Commission.
"Former Presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and
Switzerland, Prime Minister of Greece, Kofi Annan, Richard
Branson, George Shultz, Paul Volcker and Other Leaders Call for
Major Paradigm Shift in Global Drug; Policy Commission of World
Leaders Urges End to Failed Drug War, Fundamental Reforms of
Global Drug Prohibition Regime" read the headline.
Background papers prepared for the Commission, and available on
its website, were even more explicit in denouncing the U.S.-
inspired "War on Drugs" and the overwhelming focus on law
enforcement in international action on drugs. While Africa has
long been relatively marginal in global drugs trafficking, in
recent years market pressures have led Latin American criminal
networks to make increasing use of West Africa as a transit
route to Europe. While the scale of such transit links is less
elsewhere in Africa, both markets internal to the continent and
the use of transit routes from Asia to Europe are also
reportedly on the increase.
This makes a change in global approach more and more critical
for Africa, given the Commission's evidence that the current
approach, far from reducing addiction, trafficking, and
associated criminal networks, actually tends to fuel such
Given that law enforcement approaches dominate public opinion as
well as the political and policy arenas on drug issues, in
African as well as many other countries, the Commission's call
for a more informed and open debate and evidence-based policies
deserves more attention than it appears to be receiving.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from the
Commission's report, which stresses a shift from prohibition and
interdiction to health-oriented approaches, while continuing to
target criminal networks (but not users and low-level
distributors) with law enforcement measures.
Another AfricaFocus Bulletin released today, not sent out by email
but available on the web at http://www.africafocus.org/docs11/gb1106.php, contains excerpts
from two recent analyses of Guinea-Bissau and the impact of drug
trafficking there. Both call attention to the global context as
one primary determinant of the current situation in GuineaBissau,
but caution against focusing only on the drug trade in
international support for development and human security in that
country, which is highly dependent on international aid.
Remember to check AfricaFocus Facebook page (at
http://www.facebook.com/pages/AfricaFocus/101867576407) if you
are not already signed up to "like" the page in Facebook) for
recent updates, including topics not featured in recent
AfricaFocus Bulletins. Yesterday, for example, articles noted on
new large-scale violence by North Sudan government in border
area of South Kordofan (Nuba Mountains) which has not received
much media attention.
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
War on Drugs Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy
Global Commission on Drug Policy
[Excerpts only. Full report, as well as helpful background
papers, available on the Commission website.]
The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating
consequences for individuals and societies around the world.
Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on
Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the
US government's war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national
and global drug control policies are urgently needed.
Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures
directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal
drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or
consumption. Apparent victories in eliminating one source or
trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the
emergence of other sources and traffickers. Repressive efforts
directed at consumers impede public health measures to reduce
HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities and other harmful consequences of
drug use. Government expenditures on futile supply reduction
strategies and incarceration displace more cost-effective and
evidence-based investments in demand and harm reduction.
Our principles and recommendations can be summarized as follows:
- End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of
people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. Challenge
rather than reinforce common misconceptions about drug markets,
drug use and drug dependence.
- Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal
regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime
and safeguard the health and security of their citizens. This
recommendation applies especially to cannabis, but we also
encourage other experiments in decriminalization and legal
regulation that can accomplish these objectives and provide
models for others.
- Offer health and treatment services to those in need. Ensure
that a variety of treatment modalities are available, including
not just methadone and buprenorphine treatment but also the
heroin-assisted treatment programs that have proven successful
in many European countries and Canada. Implement syringe access
and other harm reduction measures that have proven effective in
reducing transmission of HIV and other blood-borne infections as
well as fatal overdoses. Respect the human rights of people who
use drugs. Abolish abusive practices carried out in the name of
treatment -- such as forced detention, forced labor, and physical
or psychological abuse -- that contravene human rights standards
and norms or that remove the right to self-determination.
- Apply much the same principles and policies stated above to
people involved in the lower ends of illegal drug markets, such
as farmers, couriers and petty sellers. Many are themselves
victims of violence and intimidation or are drug dependent.
Arresting and incarcerating tens of millions of these people in
recent decades has filled prisons and destroyed lives and
families without reducing the availability of illicit drugs or
the power of criminal organizations. There appears to be almost
no limit to the number of people willing to engage in such
activities to better their lives, provide for their families, or
otherwise escape poverty. Drug control resources are better
- Invest in activities that can both prevent young people from
taking drugs in the first place and also prevent those who do
use drugs from developing more serious problems. Eschew
simplistic 'just say no' messages and 'zero tolerance' policies
in favor of educational efforts grounded in credible information
and prevention programs that focus on social skills and peer
influences. The most successful prevention efforts may be those
targeted at specific at-risk groups.
- Focus repressive actions on violent criminal organizations,
but do so in ways that undermine their power and reach while
prioritizing the reduction of violence and intimidation. Law
enforcement efforts should focus not on reducing drug markets
per se but rather on reducing their harms to individuals,
communities and national security.
- Begin the transformation of the global drug prohibition
regime. Replace drug policies and strategies driven by ideology
and political convenience with fiscally responsible policies and
strategies grounded in science, health, security and human
rights â and adopt appropriate criteria for their evaluation.
Review the scheduling of drugs that has resulted in obvious
anomalies like the flawed categorization of cannabis, coca leaf
and MDMA. Ensure that the international conventions are
interpreted and/or revised to accommodate robust experimentation
with harm reduction, decriminalization and legal regulatory
- Break the taboo on debate and reform. The time for action is
The global war on drugs has failed. When the United Nations
Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs came into being 50 years
ago, and when President Nixon launched the US government's war
on drugs 40 years ago, policymakers believed that harsh law
enforcement action against those involved in drug production,
distribution and use would lead to an ever-diminishing market in
controlled drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis, and the
eventual achievement of a 'drug free world'. In practice, the
global scale of illegal drug markets â largely controlled by
organized crime â has grown dramatically over this period. While
accurate estimates of global consumption across the entire 50-
year period are not available, an analysis of the last 10 years
alone shows a large and growing market.
UN Estimates of Annual Drug Consumption, 1998 TO 2008
Year Opiates Cocaine Cannabis
1998 12.9 million 13.4 million 147.4 million
2008 17.35 million 17 million 160 million
% increase 34.5% 27% 8.5%
In spite of the increasing evidence that current policies are
not achieving their objectives, most policymaking bodies at the
national and international level have tended to avoid open
scrutiny or debate on alternatives.
This lack of leadership on drug policy has prompted the
establishment of our Commission, and leads us to our view that
the time is now right for a serious, comprehensive and wideranging
review of strategies to respond to the drug phenomenon.
The starting point for this review is the recognition of the
global drug problem as a set of interlinked health and social
challenges to be managed, rather than a war to be won.
Commission members have agreed on four core principles that
should guide national and international drug policies and
strategies, and have made eleven recommendations for action.
1. Drug policies must be based on solid empirical and scientific
evidence. The primary measure of success should be the reduction
of harm to the health, security and welfare of individuals and
In the 50 years since the United Nations initiated a truly
global drug prohibition system, we have learned much about the
nature and patterns of drug production, distribution, use and
dependence, and the effectiveness of our attempts to reduce
these problems. It might have been understandable that the
architects of the system would place faith in the concept of
eradicating drug production and use (in the light of the limited
evidence available at the time). There is no excuse, however,
for ignoring the evidence and experience accumulated since then.
Drug policies and strategies at all levels too often continue to
be driven by ideological perspectives, or political convenience,
and pay too little attention to the complexities of the drug
market, drug use and drug addiction.
2. Drug policies must be based on human rights and public health
principles. We should end the stigmatization and marginalization
of people who use certain drugs and those involved in the lower
levels of cultivation, production and distribution, and treat
people dependent on drugs as patients, not criminals.
Certain fundamental principles underpin all aspects of national
and international policy. These are enshrined in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and many international treaties that
have followed. Of particular relevance to drug policy are the
rights to life, to health, to due process and a fair trial, to
be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,
from slavery, and from discrimination. These rights are
inalienable, and commitment to them takes precedence over other
international agreements, including the drug control
conventions. As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Navanethem Pillay, has stated, âIndividuals who use drugs do not
forfeit their human rights. Too often, drug users suffer
discrimination, are forced to accept treatment, marginalized and
often harmed by approaches which over-emphasize criminalization
and punishment while under-emphasizing harm reduction and
respect for human rights.â
An indiscriminate approach to 'drug trafficking' is similarly
problematic. Many people taking part in the drug market are
themselves the victims of violence and intimidation, or are
dependent on drugs. An example of this phenomenon are the drug
'mules' who take the most visible and risky roles in the supply
and delivery chain. Unlike those in charge of drug trafficking
organizations, these individuals do not usually have an
extensive and violent criminal history, and some engage in the
drug trade primarily to get money for their own drug dependence.
We should not treat all those arrested for trafficking as
equally culpable â many are coerced into their actions, or are
driven to desperate measures through their own addiction or
economic situation. It is not appropriate to punish such
individuals in the same way as the members of violent organized
crime groups who control the market.
Finally, many countries still react to people dependent on drugs
with punishment and stigmatization. In reality, drug dependence
is a complex health condition that has a mixture of causes â
social, psychological and physical (including, for example,
harsh living conditions, or a history of personal trauma or
emotional problems). Trying to manage this complex condition
through punishment is ineffective â much greater success can be
achieved by providing a range of evidence-based drug treatment
services. Countries that have treated citizens dependent on
drugs as patients in need of treatment, instead of criminals
deserving of punishment, have demonstrated extremely positive
results in crime reduction, health improvement, and overcoming
3. The development and implementation of drug policies should be
a global shared responsibility, but also needs to take into
consideration diverse political, social and cultural realities.
Policies should respect the rights and needs of people affected
by production, trafficking and consumption, as explicitly
acknowledged in the 1988 Convention on Drug Trafficking.
The UN drug control system is built on the idea that all
governments should work together to tackle drug markets and
related problems. This is a reasonable starting point, and there
is certainly a responsibility to be shared between producing,
transit and consuming countries (although the distinction is
increasingly blurred, as many countries now experience elements
of all three).
However, the idea of shared responsibility has too often become
a straitjacket that inhibits policy development and
experimentation. The UN (through the International Narcotics
Control Board), and in particular the US (notably through its
'certification' process), have worked strenuously over the last
50 years to ensure that all countries adopt the same rigid
approach to drug policy â the same laws, and the same tough
approach to their enforcement. As national governments have
become more aware of the complexities of the problems, and
options for policy responses in their own territories, many have
opted to use the flexibilities within the Conventions to try new
strategies and programs, such as decriminalization initiatives
or harm reduction programs. When these involve a more tolerant
approach to drug use, governments have faced international
diplomatic pressure to 'protect the integrity of the
Conventions', even when the policy is legal, successful and
supported in the country.
4. Drug policies must be pursued in a comprehensive manner,
involving families, schools, public health specialists,
development practitioners and civil society leaders, in
partnership with law enforcement agencies and other relevant
With their strong focus on law enforcement and punishment, it is
not surprising that the leading institutions in the
implementation of the drug control system have been the police,
border control and military authorities directed by Ministries
of Justice, Security or Interior. At the multilateral level,
regional or United Nations structures are also dominated by
these interests. Although governments have increasingly
recognized that law enforcement strategies for drug control need
to be integrated into a broader approach with social and public
health programs, the structures for policymaking, budget
allocation, and implementation have not modernized at the same
These institutional dynamics obstruct objective and evidencebased
policymaking. This is more than a theoretical problem â
repeated studies have demonstrated that governments achieve much
greater financial and social benefit for their communities by
investing in health and social programs, rather than investing
in supply reduction and law enforcement activities. However, in
most countries, the vast majority of available resources are
spent on the enforcement of drug laws and the punishment of
people who use drugs.
The lack of coherence is even more marked at the United Nations.
The development of the global drug control regime involved the
creation of three bodies to oversee the implementation of the
conventions â the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the
International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), and the Commission
on Narcotic Drugs (CND). This structure is premised on the
notion that international drug control is primarily a fight
against crime and criminals. Unsurprisingly, there is a built-in
vested interest in maintaining the law enforcement focus and the
senior decisionmakers in these bodies have traditionally been
most familiar with this framework.
Now that the nature of the drug policy challenge has changed,
the institutions must follow. Global drug policy should be
created from the shared strategies of all interested
multilateral agencies â UNODC of course, but also UNAIDS, WHO,
UNDP, UNICEF, UN Women, the World Bank, and the Office of the
High Commissioner on Human Rights. The marginalization of the
World Health Organization is particularly worrisome given the
fact that it has been given a specific mandate under the drug
The implementation of the war on drugs has generated widespread
negative consequences for societies in producer, transit and
consumer countries. These negative consequences were well
summarized by the former Executive Director of the United
Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, as
falling into five broad categories:
- The growth of a 'huge criminal black market', financed by the
risk-escalated profits of supplying international demand for
- Extensive policy displacement, the result of using scarce
resources to fund a vast law enforcement effort intended to
address this criminal market.
- Geographical displacement, often known as 'the balloon
effect', whereby drug production shifts location to avoid the
attentions of law enforcement.
- Substance displacement, or the movement of consumers to new
substances when their previous drug of choice becomes difficult
to obtain, for instance through law enforcement pressure.
- The perception and treatment of drug users, who are
stigmatized, marginalized and excluded.
1. Break the taboo. Pursue an open debate and promote policies
that effectively reduce consumption, and that prevent and reduce
harms related to drug use and drug control policies. Increase
investment in research and analysis into the impact of different
policies and programs.
Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to
articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately:
that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive
strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on
drugs has not, and cannot, be won. Governments do have the power
to pursue a mix of policies that are appropriate to their own
situation, and manage the problems caused by drug markets and
drug use in a way that has a much more positive impact on the
level of related crime, as well as social and health harms.
2. Replace the criminalization and punishment of people who use
drugs with the offer of health and treatment services to those
who need them.
A key idea behind the 'war on drugs' approach was that the
threat of arrest and harsh punishment would deter people from
using drugs. In practice, this hypothesis has been disproved â
many countries that have enacted harsh laws and implemented
widespread arrest and imprisonment of drug users and low-level
dealers have higher levels of drug use and related problems than
countries with more tolerant approaches. Similarly, countries
that have introduced decriminalization, or other forms of
reduction in arrest or punishment, have not seen the rises in
drug use or dependence rates that had been feared.
[section with examples showing decriminalization does not lead
to increased drug use - Portugal, Netherlands, Australia,
comparison among U.S. states]
In the light of these experiences, it is clear that the policy
of harsh criminalization and punishment of drug use has been an
expensive mistake, and governments should take steps to refocus
their efforts and resources on diverting drug users into health
and social care services. Of course, this does not necessarily
mean that sanctions should be removed altogether â many drug
users will also commit other crimes for which they need to be
held responsible â but the primary reaction to drug possession
and use should be the offer of appropriate advice, treatment and
health services to individuals who need them, rather than
expensive and counterproductive criminal punishments.
3. Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal
regulation of drugs (with cannabis, for example) that are
designed to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard
the health and security of their citizens.
The debate on alternative models of drug market regulation has
too often been constrained by false dichotomies â tough or soft,
repressive or liberal. ...
If national governments or local administrations feel that
decriminalization policies will save money and deliver better
health and social outcomes for their communities, or that the
creation of a regulated market may reduce the power of organized
crime and improve the security of their citizens, then the
international community should support and facilitate such
policy experiments and learn from their application.
4. Establish better metrics, indicators and goals to measure
The current system of measuring success in the drug policy field
is fundamentally flawed. The impact of most drug strategies are
currently assessed by the level of crops eradicated, arrests,
seizures and punishments applied to users, growers and dealers.
In fact, arresting and punishing drug users does little to
reduce levels of drug use, taking out low-level dealers simply
creates a market opportunity for others, and even the largest
and most successful operations against organized criminals (that
take years to plan and implement) have been shown to have, at
best, a marginal and short-lived impact on drug prices and
availability. Similarly, eradication of opium, cannabis or coca
crops merely displaces illicit cultivation to other areas.
A new set of indicators is needed to truly show the outcomes of
drug policies, according to their harms or benefits for
individuals and communities â for example, the number of victims
of drug market-related violence and intimidation; the level of
corruption generated by drug markets; the level of petty crime
committed by dependent users; levels of social and economic
development in communities where drug production, selling or
consumption are concentrated; the level of drug dependence in
communities; the level of overdose deaths; and the level of HIV
or hepatitis C infection among drug users. Policymakers can and
should articulate and measure the outcome of these objectives.
6. Countries that continue to invest mostly in a law enforcement
approach (despite the evidence) should focus their repressive
actions on violent organized crime and drug traffickers, in
order to reduce the harms associated with the illicit drug
The resources of law enforcement agencies can be much more
effectively targeted at battling the organized crime groups that
have expanded their power and reach on the back of drug market
profits. In many parts of the world, the violence, intimidation
and corruption perpetrated by these groups is a significant
threat to individual and national security and to democratic
institutions, so efforts by governments and law enforcement
agencies to curtail their activities remain essential.
Law Enforcement and the Escalation of Violence
A group of academics and public health experts based in British
Columbia have conducted a systematic review of evidence relating
to the impact of increased law enforcement on drug marketrelated
violence (for example, armed gangs fighting for control
of the drug trade, or homicide and robberies connected to the
In multiple US locations, as well as in Sydney, Australia, the
researchers found that increased arrests and law enforcement
pressures on drug markets were strongly associated with
increased homicide rates and other violent crimes. Of all the
studies examining the effect of increased law enforcement on
drug market violence, 91 percent concluded that increased law
enforcement actually increased drug market violence.
7. Promote alternative sentences for small-scale and first-time
While the idea of decriminalization has mainly been discussed in
terms of its application to people who use drugs or who are
struggling with drug dependence, we propose that the same
approach be considered for those at the bottom of the drug
selling chain. The majority of people arrested for small-scale
drug selling are not gangsters or organized criminals. They are
young people who are exploited to do the risky work of street
selling, dependent drug users trying to raise money for their
own supply, or couriers coerced or intimidated into taking drugs
across borders. These people are generally prosecuted under the
same legal provisions as the violent and organized criminals who
control the market, resulting in the indiscriminate application
of severe penalties.
8. Invest more resources in evidence-based prevention, with a
special focus on youth.
Clearly, the most valuable investment would be in activities
that stop young people from using drugs in the first place, and
that prevent experimental users from becoming problematic or
dependent users. Prevention of initiation or escalation is
clearly preferable to responding to the problems after they
occur. Unfortunately, most early attempts at reducing overall
rates of drug use through mass prevention campaigns were poorly
planned and implemented. While the presentation of good (and
credible) information on the risks of drug use is worthwhile,
the experience of universal prevention (such as media campaigns,
or school-based drug prevention programs) has been mixed.
Simplistic 'just say no' messages do not seem to have a
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